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    It’s official: McDonald’s should stick to unhealthy food

    McDonald’s whole thing is that it is not some beacon of health.

    iStock; Rebecca Zisser/BI

    A thing that is real: craving McDonald’s. A thing that is not real: craving a salad from McDonald’s. Customers know that. McDonald’s does, too, and it shouldn’t forget it.

    The fast-food chain’s forays into healthier alternatives have been rotten. At The Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum in June, Joe Erlinger, the president of McDonald’s US, detailed the company’s missteps in meatless burgers and salads. The McPlant burger fell flat in tests in San Francisco and Dallas, he said, and won’t be appearing on American menus soon. (Vegan options are doing better for the brand in Europe.) As for salads, McDonald’s might be down to serve them widely at some point after ditching them in 2020 during the pandemic, but only if consumers show up for them, which they haven’t in the past. “What our experience has proven is that’s not what the consumer’s looking for,” Erlinger said.

    You go to McDonald’s for a cheap, craveable quick bite, not a healthy, more expensive item.

    To state the obvious: obviously. McDonald’s whole thing is that it is not some beacon of health. People are showing up for an affordable, decent burger accompanied by some (hopefully) affordable, decent fries. No one walks up to the golden arches jazzed that they’re about to make a super great choice for their body.

    “You go to McDonald’s for a cheap, craveable quick bite, not a healthy, more expensive item,” said Darren Tristano, the CEO and founder of Foodservice Results, a food-industry consultancy. A higher-quality alternative may get tossed on the menu so that if people are going out to eat in a group, there’s an option for a health-conscious person in the mix, preventing their veto, he said. “But ultimately you’re not going to see a group of kids going there and buying four plant-based burgers.”

    In general, McDonald’s is exceptionally good at scaling an established trend and bringing it to the masses, said Danilo Gargiulo, a senior research analyst at AB Bernstein. But it’s not really a trendsetter or an innovative company. If you consider the extent to which plant-based meat has failed to take off in the US, it makes sense that it would be a flop at McDonald’s, too. Beyond Meat, which partnered with McDonald’s on the McPlant, earlier this year revealed a turnaround plan to try to revive its brand, including cutting at least $70 million in costs. Its rival Impossible Foods has undertaken multiple rounds of layoffs over the past couple of years.

    The issue with salads isn’t that they’re not popular in the US — it’s that there are plenty of places to get them that aren’t McDonald’s. There’s no good reason to get your roughage from the same place that makes the Grimace Shake when you can go to Sweetgreen, Cava, or Panera. Or you can just spin something up from ingredients you got at the grocery store, reserving your McDonald’s trip for when you’re in the mood for a treat.

    Consumers give restaurants a sort of permission to offer certain items. At McDonald’s, diners are on board with breakfast sandwiches and Big Macs; they’re not so on board with a mediocre salad.

    “They will only give you credit for the things they think you can produce,” Tristano said. “You’re not going to see an eggs Benedict at McDonald’s.”

    Over the years, McDonald’s has been able to fold in some noncore items — namely, coffee and chicken. But that makes sense. Coffee, including specialty coffee, is already popular. McDonald’s has had regular drip coffee available for decades, but it didn’t open its first McCafé until 1993, in Australia. The first McCafé in the US opened in Chicago in 2001.

    McDonald’s developed chicken nuggets in the 1970s and added them to the menu in 1983. It put the McChicken sandwich on the menu in 1980, later pulled it because of poor performance, and then put it back on again after the success of the nuggets. Today, McDonald’s is selling as much chicken as it is beef, if not more, doing $25 billion in chicken sales annually. Still, it’s the crispy chicken and the nuggets that are going gangbusters, not the leaner grilled chicken, which it also pulled from menus across the US during the pandemic.

    It’s not just consumer demand that’s keeping McDonald’s menu limited to the more-traditional, less-than-body-boosting items — it’s its franchisees, too. It doesn’t want to have to offer items they have a hard time selling, let alone put in the investment to make them. Keeping the menu limited helps them serve faster and keep costs down.

    No one goes to the Apple Store looking for a charm bracelet. And no one goes to McDonald’s looking for greens.

    In the landscape of fast food, McDonald’s is unique and it isn’t. Tristano said Wendy’s, for example, hasn’t had much success in expanding its menu beyond chili, which it can use its leftover meat to create, though it does have salad. Gargiulo said Burger King had done a little better on some fronts because in its DNA is a focus on a little higher quality. Its Impossible Whopper remains available in the US, though some of its other vegan options, such as the Impossible Croissan’wich, have been taken off the menu.

    “Part of what McDonald’s excels at is their ability to operationally make things efficient. And even if you look at the kitchen, the equipment and how it’s laid out and how their workers are optimizing the space as well as the time that they are using everything is, it looks like a Toyota production system,” Gargiulo said. “Burger King has always been a little bit more irreverent. It’s been a little bit more the smaller brother attempting to be something better than McDonald’s.”

    Consumers have certain expectations for McDonald’s, just as they do of any brand. For McDonald’s, they’d like it to be cheap, they want it to taste OK, and they want to feel like they’re getting bang for their buck. But if they’re worried about their waistlines, at this point it’s pretty clear McDonald’s is not the place to go. No one goes to J.Crew looking for a new car. No one goes to the Apple Store looking for a charm bracelet. And no one goes to McDonald’s looking for greens.

    Emily Stewart is a senior correspondent at Business Insider, writing about business and the economy.

    Read the original article on Business Insider

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